HAMILTON, ON – The stage was set in Burridge Gym, adorned in the maroon and white of host McMaster, perhaps offering some amount of support to the visitors in Grey and Garnet. Thanks to the efforts of Lakehead’s Orillia campus, the Thunderwolves would not be without morale boosters in the stands and a reminder of the North Western city that witnessed their rise to the top of the OUA West this season. The match up beckoned of a battle that was a year in the making, this time soaked in the anticipation and adrenaline that only live coverage from a national sports network can ascertain. It was Venzal Russell who was soaked in the sweet smell of victory at the end of the game speaking to a nation not of his own, with The Score’s Tim Micallef as he iced the game with a buzzer beater, on top of a stellar performance, which earned him the Porter Player of the Game award. The Thunderwolves thus sealed their fate as CIS Final 8 contenders, and, more immediately, Wilson Cup finalists.
First quarter action was slow to begin, but got a quick infusion compliments of LU’s Ben Johnson (Pictou, NS), in the form of three 3-pointers in the first frame. Johnson wasn’t the only one heating up early, as Venzal Russell (Detroit, MI), Ryan Thompson (Oakville, ON) and Brendan King (Petawawa, ON) all struck from long range in the first frame. All told, 18 of LU’s 22 first quarter points were from 3, compared to Ottawa’s 12-point first quarter offering (1-7 3pt, 1-6 FT). Jamie Searle, a frequent participant in the Thunderwolves firestorms fro mbehind the arc, was on the bench with two fouls.
The second quarter continued to favor the Thunderwolves (20-17), although Ottawa did begin to get their offensive game rolling, with Warren Ward (London, ON) having 8 points at the break with the score 42-29 Lakehead. The fast paced third quarter was Ottawa’s by a 24-21 advantage. Louis Gauthier (Ottawa, ON) had begun to find his touch on the inside, and reserve big man Nemanja Baletic (Ottawa, ON) hit some clutch jumpers late in the shot clock.
Fourth quarter action ground to to a halt, with both team cooling off, but Ottawa finding ways to rally with a few fast break baskets, while Lakehead’s offense seemed out of rhythm, and turnovers ensued. With 4:18 remaining in the 4th, Venzal Russell turned the ball over on a drive, a media time-out occurred and Lakehead’s lead had dwindled to two points, 63-61. The next 6 points for Ottawa would come from big men Louis Gauthier and Baletic hitting threes, to have the score tied at 67 with 41.2 seconds remaining, and 7 on the shot clock, off an inbounds, the ball was knocked loose and ended up in the hands of Gauthier, who hit another jumper to put Ottawa up for the first time in the game 69-67.
Following a drive and being fouled, Jamie Searle tied the game with 2 free throws with 19.3 seconds on the clock. On the following Gee Gee possession, Jamie Searle coaxed the ball out of the hands of Christopher Anderson (Ottawa, ON), and it was scooped up by Yoosrie Salhia and given to Greg Carter who pushed up the court with 9 seconds to play. After a swing of the ball, Venzal Russell drove baseline, stepped back, and nailed the game winning shot with .9 seconds on the clock.
Yoosrie Salhia finished with a double double, 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Russell finished with 17 points and 7 rebounds. Greg Carter finished with 9 points and 7 assists.
Ottawa was led by Gauthier with 18 points, followed by Baletic with 14 points.
LU Coach Scott Morrison was unavailable for comment immediately following the game, but stay tuned to thunderwolves.ca , or the Lakehead Basketball Blog for coach Morrison’s reaction on the win.
With the win, the Thunderwolves earn their way to the Wilson Cup final, to face the winner of the Laurier-Carleton match up. Game time is 8 pm Saturday. They also ensure their passage to the CIS Fianl 8 Tournament in Halifax March 11-13.